The Wonderland (Bāsudē Wandārando) 2019

Even as I type this, I’m sick of my own go-to thought being something like ‘compare this one to Ghibli’, because that’s lazy of me.

Moreover, Studio Ghibli hasn’t released a non-CGI feature for six years or so. And nor do they own ‘awe and whimsy’. No studio does, of course! (Having said that, I know Wonderland has been compared to Ghibli and Miyazaki films in particular.)

But it is different in terms of tone and execution.


The Wonderland is an old-school portal fantasy (or ‘Isakei’ to use the anime lingo) where characters are led into a fairy-tale world (rather than a game), which makes sense considering that it’s based on a children’s story from 1988*.

And the world that Akane and her aunt must save is a real draw for me since it’s got plenty of surprises and fun, whimsical settings, characters and moments. There’s also a classic ‘reluctant hero’ plot and it’s nice to see Akane quickly become less selfish as the story progresses.

(Of course, there’s an understandable reluctance – being asked to save a magical world you never knew existed would be worrisome to say the least).

As much as I enjoyed most of the film, there was something missing from the narrative. Perhaps strong ties to the central problem Akane is being asked to solve? Or maybe I wanted more from the villain too?

Still, the art and animation was beautiful and Chii was an interesting addition to the leads, and so I didn’t mind. And there were funny moments to balance the menacing ones too (without spoilers) like with Akane and the cats or Hippocrates’ transformation.

The Wonderland is aimed at younger audiences but it’s not G-rated either, so there’s violence but I don’t actually remember blood. Having noted the target audience, I found it interesting that an adult from the real world was allowed to come along for the adventure, which is kinda rare in YA fiction.

Directed by Keiichi Hara, (Miss Hokusai), this adaption was only released a few years ago now but I don’t remember hearing about it, not back then and not very often now either. I’m curious if anyone else had a chance to see it?

Maybe 4 Stars is a little generous in terms of a rating but for me, in a visual medium the visuals sometimes make up for other issues 😀

*Chikashitsu Kara no Fushigi na Tabi (Strange Journey from the Basement) by Sachiko Kashiwaba

Yasuke

Yasuke (2021)

Let me preface this review by saying that I will watch more of Yasuke.

I did find that the scope of events in the latter half quickly outstripped the amount of episodes allocated to the season, resulting in a pretty rushed feel which left me feeling a little cold toward the show.

If Netflix would simply stand by their creators and not rush out a handful of episodes at a time, maybe it’d be easier for shows to pace their storytelling, to give characters and events room to breathe/develop. (Of course, I don’t know if that is actually what’s happening).

But stepping away from possible production issues, I didn’t need much convincing to try this short anime at all – samurai, supernatural stuff, outsider lead character, all things that I tend to enjoy.

And enjoy them I did. Most of the action was great and while there were times where the dialogue didn’t land for me, the range of character designs and colour palettes balanced that out.

While I didn’t go in seeking historical fiction from the anime, I did really enjoy the flashback portions of the story. In fact, Yasuke’s backstory became more compelling than the main storyline at one point, and I would have watched more in that vein for sure.

That’s not to knock the mentor relationship between Yasuke & Saki but there was a lot about other characters that didn’t work for me.

An example of that would be the sense that Achoja and co were meant to be rogues that come around to the side of the good guys when faced with a bigger evil, and yet the narrative sort of jammed them and their flat banter into events then did away with them before giving enough time to get to know or care about them.   

Maybe I misread the purpose of those characters in the narrative?

As much as I liked the variety in character designs, Saki did sometimes have a little of an ‘adult face in kid’s body’ look and Father Abraham reminded me a bit too much of Anthony Hopkins. Minor things, but I noticed them.

For me, the first few episodes feel like a great beginning to a pretty epic story.

The next ones less so, but I’m still keen to see what happens next with future seasons should they appear and ended up preferring Yasuke over Cannon Busters.

3 Stars

(I should mention that the OST by Flying Lotus really stands out too.)

Gingitsune

Gingitsune (2013)

Okay, time for a short-ish review!

I know I’ve said this before, but sometimes I dislike using the word ‘sweet’. Mostly because I worry that it has dismissive connotations or that it suggests a lack of tension, or stakes. And that’s not the case in Gingitsune for me.

Maybe ‘feel-good’ or ‘uplifting’ is better for a description of tone in this short series? If I was pressed in terms of genre (beyond supernatural or fantasy) I’m thinking of that blurred line between Slice of Life and Drama.

The main draw for me was the grumpy-but-caring Gintaro (messenger to the fox god Inari) and his relationship with heroine Makoto, the young shrine maiden. Their quarrels and triumphs were great and Gintaro’s obsession with oranges was always funny.

I also enjoyed the Shinto aspects. I’m not very familiar with that cultural aspect of Japan at all and so it was great to learn a little about it, even in the fictionalised context of an anime.

Notwithstanding the tediously jealous Hura, the characters are all cute and fun and I liked the episodic nature of the stories too, along with those beautiful backgrounds – of which I’ve shared only a few.

So, if any of the above sounds like your thing and you’ve not come across Gingitsune before then consider finding it because I reckon it’s pretty great 🙂

4 Stars

Ride Your Wave (Kimi to, Nami ni Noretara)

A quick review for Ride Your Wave (Kimi to, Nami ni Noretara) 2019.

Romance is one genre that I don’t have a lot of knowledge about so I can’t compare Ride Your Wave to many other films but I definitely enjoyed it. Maybe in part due to the fantastical elements that supported the romance?

That said, the central romantic plot certainly has a few twists and turns and one complication seems like the kind that would definitely end a relationship… but without spoilers, Minato and Hinako do remain connected afterwards.

Throughout Ride Your Wave there’s plenty of drama, not too much angst and enough funny moments to balance out the sadder parts too. I also enjoyed the kinda gangly character designs, they stood out for me, adding to the sense of characters fumbling through their relationships.

I do remember beginning to see Yōko as a complete villain but she’s not one dimensional.

At the end, there’s a big, pretty exciting final set-piece and it really extends the surf theme while neatly marrying in the fire-fighting – probably my other favourite aspect. (And the summer setting is both warm, bright and most welcome when I think back on it, especially as winter is really digging in here at the moment).

I haven’t seen much by Masaaki Yuasa yet (just ‘Happy Machine’ from Genius Party), and I really enjoyed Ride Your Wave, so I will definitely seek out some of his other films now too.

4 Stars

B: The Beginning – Succession

B: The Beginning – Succession (2021)

I’m not sure how to write about this short season…

It seemed like the prologue to a bigger story to come, and at the same time, like an epilogue to a bigger story that had already been told.

Which it basically was.

In terms of negative aspects, first up is that fact that I didn’t enjoy the side-lining of Keith Flick* for pretty much the entire series. Maybe it’s like Superman needing kryptonite. If a character is too smart, it can be hard to surprise them and so dramatic tension is cut.

While the political intrigue was an interesting extra facet this time around I think it maybe took the place of a compelling villain, but since this season seems to function as something to tide folks over, I should probably hold back on judging too soon.

Things still look great and there was plenty of dramatic lighting and warm colours, along with some exciting action sequences, but overall I’m still finding myself a bit disappointed.

Having said that, I’ll still watch more episodes if they appear one day and it was nice to see Izanami return.

So, maybe 3 stars, I guess?

*I’m also wondering if Keith’s past with his adoptive sister is going to be explored or whether it’s just some run of the mill shock tactics stuff?

Mirai

Mirai (2018)

This film was kinda hard work.

It’s a family drama with a few fantastical elements but I felt mostly like I was locked inside the tantrum of one small boy for most* of the movie.

Having said that, there are a few wonderful forays into other places and times that expand the setting and add whimsy and also pack emotional weight as well… but for too much of the running time I found myself sitting through scenes of Kun’s jealous whining. (And yeah, he is just a little kid struggling with change, as is the whole family, but I didn’t enjoy it much).

Elsewhere the gender stereotypes are perhaps a little dull and I didn’t finish the movie feeling particularly uplifted, which is something I’ve come to expect from Mamoru Hosoda films. (Having said that, quite obviously not every single film he or any other creator makes has to be uplifting at all.)

Mirai is still visually beautiful and I really enjoyed the variety in the sort of single setting of the home, but the highlights for me were the scenes where Kun meets and learns about his grandfather – I’d watch a whole anime about that in a flash.

Not my favourite Mamoru Hosoda film by any stretch but it certainly might be your thing.

2 Stars

(Cool to hear Tatsuro Yamashita in the opening though).

* Of course, I am exaggerating when I say ‘most’ but it was too much for me.

The Third: Girl with the Blue Eye (Za Sādo – Aoi Hitomi no)

The Third: Girl with the Blue Eye (Za Sādo – Aoi Hitomi no) 2007

The Third: Girl with the Blue Eye met most of my expectations and I did enjoy it a lot, but there was a little something missing for me when it came to the ending.

However, I’ll stick with what I liked most first.

As I’ve said before, I love adventure stories, and usually ones based on light novels (or just novels in general) tend to have great plots and charactarisation. And that’s mostly how I feel about this anime; it was great to see heroine Honoka roaming the post-apocalyptic world, saving folks with her blade and mech suit, aided by her AI tank and the mysterious Iks.

There is a central plot that reveals itself in time, and while I said ‘post-apoc’ I should mention that this is a reasonably hopeful future-earth, compared to other shows at least. The setting was one draw for me, and the friendly bickering between Honoka and her tank (Bogie, voiced by Unshou Ishizuka, ‘Jet Black’), was great too, along with the fight scenes and interpersonal aspects between leads.

One thing that really stands out was the fact that The Third has a narrator – usually providing exposition or character monologue, which was interesting. It worked for me – but I could definitely see that as an issue for some viewers.

I also wondered about Paifu and her ‘rivalry’ with Iks re: Honoka, as that came across as pretty odd onscreen, even downright creepy… is Paifu meant to actually be a villain? She tends to act like one throughout.

But my main issue is with the ending. (A few times, the animation also dips and the character models seem fairly ‘off’ but I did get over that.)

Instead, as the series begins to wrap, there’s a significant plot line that seems like it represents the ‘ending’. It gets a few episodes to resolve things, and I finished it feeling the sense that ‘it’s all been sorted/crisis averted’ – but it wasn’t really the end.

There was more of The Third… left, and suddenly, tension had to be rebuilt in the two remaining episodes, and so the actual closing episodes of the anime didn’t feel quite as ‘big’ to me.

Having said that, it wasn’t a bad ending either… but it just didn’t land the same way as the preceding episodes, I guess. I was still interested to learn some final secrets, and I was always going to watch the final two, but yeah. Hard for me to rate, I probably personally enjoyed it a bit more than my score will suggest.

3 Stars

During the early-middle period of the series, there’s an episode or two with these stark, dramatic shadows that I really liked:

A-Z Challenge: “O” is for Oblivion Island, Haruka and the Magic Mirror

Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror (Hottarake no Shima: Haruka to Mahō no Kagami) 2009

The success of Toy Story and Skrek are two CGI examples that I think of most when it comes to changing animation in America. Of course, it’s silly to point out only two examples, only two moments or studios (Pixar and DreamWorks here) as being responsible… but I think they are definitely noteworthy 🙂

Across the world in Japan, I kinda see Production IG as one similar driver of CGI integration into anime. Again, they’re obviously not the only studio doing so, but if I think of Ghost in the Shell in the mid-1990s and Innocence (among others) a little later on, I feel like there’s a clear line to 2009 when they released Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror.

Later in the review I do want to return to this rambling train of thought, but I should talk about the film itself sooner or later, huh?

Oblivion Island has a great fairy-tale feel, with perhaps a bit of Alice in Wonderland but a lot more Japanese folklore too, with a specific focus on kitsune. The hook for me was the idea that main character Haruka is drawn into a world of ‘forgotten things’, things which humans have left behind and have then been collected by fox-like creatures over the decades (and doubtless longer).

In fact, the scavengers have a motto: What You Neglect, We Collect, which is a pretty perfect description. When Haruka lands in the new world she is lucky enough to have a (reluctant at first) guide to show her around. And the Island is a pretty amazing place, where pretty much everything has been repurposed, from open books that function as seats on rail cars to gramophones deconstructed into chairs (okay, they’re both chairs :D).  

There’s even a hierarchy/currency to the items, with mirrors being prized above all else – exactly the object Haruka needs to recover; her own precious hand mirror.

The story unfolds at a steady pace as the search gets Haruka and Teo (her guide) mixed up with ruler of the island, Baron. Maybe as an adult you won’t find heaps of surprises but I think kids would be delighted in all the right places, and Teo’s a cute little guy too. It’s also cool to see that Haruka is no push-over either.

If I had to single out an issue… it was just the feeling that I didn’t love the movie – I ‘only’ liked it a lot. That’s not much of a criticism, is it? Maybe the climax was actually a little long but it was usually pretty exciting.

Okay, so finally I’m going to creep back toward the visuals – which is what I was slowly, slowly leading up to at the start.

I remember a certain amount of excitement and bold predictions from the media and creators during those changes to the animation world that I mentioned before, discussing the way new technology would revolutionise things (I remember a bit of that around the time of Appleseed for one).

You can still see that excitement in occasional special features included with physical releases, sometimes it’s even the same folks looking back and reflecting on how the predictions turned out a little differently (but not ‘wrong’ either).

So, why have I also wrangled this review around to special features?

Well, I like to use them as one potential marker of the level of success a studio hoped for with a new release and I was curious about Haruka and the Magic Mirror.

Obviously, most ‘extras’ double as marketing materials but when I saw the decent list of special features included with Oblivion Island, I had the impression that Shinsuke Sato and Producton IG wanted the film to be a big hit. And of course! Why shouldn’t they? Success also keeps the studio going and making more great stuff.

So, I guess finally now to a question – did other folks like the film and its blend of traditional animation and CGI?

Oblivion Island was nominated for and won awards but I suppose if I’m interested in more than one marker of success, then I can’t ignore box office either – so, using IMDB, Haruka and the Magic Mirror had a worldwide gross of $3,171,022.

Now, to give some context I’ll try a couple of other similar-ish films released in the same year. First up, Summer Wars, which listed a fair bit more in terms of ticket sales: $18,434,328. Hosada’s film also used CGI but not in the same way as Oblivion Island and he also had a lot of anticipation already built up at that point. Something more CGI-heavy then? I’ll try Astro Boy – it took in $39,886,986 but it’s not precisely an anime film. (It was also considered a flop).

Maybe neither of my examples are totally useful as 1-to-1 comparisons, but I think I can say that audiences were still slow to warm to CGI in anime then. I know some of that reluctance lingers today, and does so within me, but again, I think I mostly complain when it seems like the blend between techniques is not great.

And I reckon Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror brings the two approaches together nicely indeed. Even if the character models have that CGI-smooth look, there’s still a lot of texture and depth to them and the backgrounds and props, and not just courtesy of the lighting either I reckon.

So, finally, I’ve finished all of my tangents – and as it turns out, it took me a really long time to say that I enjoyed this fairy-tale CGI anime and think it’d probably be pretty suitable for kids, just not the really, really young.

4 Stars

[This is another entry in a challenge (that I hope to one day finish), where I have set myself the goal of watching something for each letter of the alphabet – you can see the list over here if curious].

Land of the Lustrous (Hōseki no Kuni)

Land of the Lustrous (Hōseki no Kuni) 2017

Land of the Lustrous seems to be cited fairly often as a show that can change minds when it comes to anime and CGI.

I guess I’m fairly hard on CGI that I feel isn’t integrated all that well with trad techniques in the anime world, but I wouldn’t consider myself as the sort that would instantly dismiss a text due to its use of CGI either.

All of which is to say that I didn’t need convincing 🙂

The blend is great and so visually Land of the Lustrous is beautiful – the colours are vibrant and the ‘shatter’ effect is heaps of fun. Having comparatively less detailed backgrounds and settings really added to the contrast too, from the grass, to the sea and the snow. I felt bad kinda looking forward to how (visually at least) each stroke of misfortune might end up looking for the characters.

Others have said more interesting things about the visuals than I have and I doubt I’ll add anything ground-breaking about the story or characters either, but while the anime features lots of action-sequences, Land of the Lustrous is definitely character-driven.

Everything revolves around Phos and her struggle to find purpose. Many of the disasters that strike her community (generally a cyclical war between three cultures) come from her failures, choices and desire to do what’s right.

Creator Haruko Ichikawa has also given Phos plenty of great lines when it comes to injecting the comedic element, which definitely kept me smiling.

There’s also clear development for our lead character too – actually, let me pause for a sec. I’ve said ‘her’ before but in fact, Ichikawa describes the gems as being genderless and suggested as much to the translator for the English release, so it’s they for Phos and co, and maybe sometimes in the original some masculine pronouns are used too – but my Japanese is non-existent, really, so I can’t be sure.

If you like a mystery woven in around an interesting and (for now?) narrow setting, then Land of the Lustrous should also satisfy on that level. I don’t want to go into too much detail now, due to my usual fear of spoilers, but I’m keen for a second season so I can learn more!

And not just about the main storyline and the history of the gems, or the master’s connection with the invading Lunarians, but also folks like Padparadscha who I hope has a main role in the future.

Not sure whether Orange have more Land of the Lustrous on their plate for the near future, but I’m definitely keeping an eye out.

5 Stars

Cool hair – so much of anime is about hair, I think.
I guess (visually at least) ‘LotL’ has some fanservice re: costume and framing, but it’s not really the focus overall.

The Sword in the Stone (1963)

The Sword in the Stone (1963)

To begin, I thought I should note that this is the Disney film where the team emotionally torments that poor chipmunk character, and also mention that The Sword in the Stone isn’t an exploration of the Arthurian legend.

That timeless Chip ‘n’ Dale chipmunk design

Instead, I think you can consider it more of a series of fun, loosely connected sequences put together to delight young children with colour and slapstick. Which is not a bad thing at all, and it was a film I watched over and over as a kid on my grandmother’s TV, so I have fond memories indeed!

And it’s always great to see Disney’s love of forests on display too, something I notice and compare each time I watch a Disney film. Most of Arthur’s transformations make for exciting scenes but as an adult, I could feel certain moments starting to drag a little, and others felt a little rushed compared to what I sought from a King Arthur/Merlin tale.

Feels like you could draw a neat link from this scene to ‘Finding Nemo’

One scene that sticks around a little long for me is obviously the squirrel one, whereas anything in the city tends to be a more rushed. Having Wart’s character voiced by three actors (including two brothers which was cool) made the variance between them quite stark, even too stark at times.

Overall, I don’t want to call The Sword in the Stone a bad film but there are enough better Disney ones to maybe seek out first. I still enjoyed the moat chase and the dueling magicians (when Merlin confronts Madam Mim) but I wasn’t enchanted this time around.

3 Stars 

Classic Dinsey to bring in the present to any historical story.